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Mark S. Knapp: School marshals a common-sense solution

Mark S. Knapp

There are once again many heated discussions about how to stop the carnage in our schools. A few years ago, I led a group of trial attorneys through an analysis of what it will take for Washington state school districts to seriously tackle the issue of protecting schools. It is apparent that Parkland School District in Florida will have to pay huge sums for its failure to anticipate mass murder that was very foreseeable.

Teachers with guns? Many school boards and legislatures in other states have already embarked on a policy of authorizing armed personnel within school premises. Federal and Washington state law both leave it up to school boards to designate who will be armed in Washington schools. Nevertheless, most educators and school boards flatly reject proposals for arming teachers with guns.

There is reason to believe that some Washington state schools are already taking quiet steps, however. Teachers who choose to undertake the training and responsibility of being a school marshal should not be denied the same opportunity to serve that we are proposing for other qualified personnel.

Public Duty Doctrine It should not be a surprise to anyone that such matters are insurance driven. Washington state’s Public Duty Doctrine dictates that a policy decision not to deploy armed protection in the schools exposes school districts to very low levels of liability. That is because it is a pure policy decision and therefore immune from liability for almost any accidents that occur.

Prohibitive insurance costs On the other hand, the cost of insuring for accidents on the part of armed personnel is astronomical. Even an accidental discharge or a stray bullet discharged during a deadly force encounter subjects a school district to huge liabilities. Once the policy decision is made to arm school personnel, the gun-handling issues are no longer discretionary policy acts. Rather, decisions regarding imminent use of deadly force leave very little room for discretion. Therefore, school administrators choose to play the insurance actuary version of Russian roulette with the lives of our children and school staff.

Proposed legislation What is needed are state-legislated standards for armed school marshal certification. The legislation we are proposing will provide districts with an incentive to deploy certified individuals who meet or exceed law enforcement standards in areas that are relevant to school safety.

School marshal program By deploying certified school marshals, school districts should enjoy a legislated grant of immunity from any liability for negligence that occurs due to acts in good faith on the part of duly certified personnel. The grant of district and personal immunity will keep exposure to liability low and act as an incentive for insurance companies to hold down premiums and perhaps even subsidize the continuous training that should be required.

Training standards We are asking law enforcement authorities to propose the standards for training and vetting school marshals and also to participate in drafting the proposed legislation.

Action Training Group Inc. A nonprofit, volunteer group, the Action Training Group presently encourages gun owners at every skill level to participate in action shooting. We present “shoot-on-the-move” drills every month. We also share information related to church safety. The ATG is now beginning to invite teachers and other school personnel to participate in some special training sessions. We want to develop many of the skill sets needed to qualify as a school marshal.

The sky will not fall! Just as the air marshal program began under a cloud of complaints that the sky would fall in if we allowed guns in commercial aircraft, we are now hearing that we can’t expect school personnel to safely do what the four deputies at the Florida school failed to do. Nevertheless, a sea change is about to occur in which many districts in Washington will arm certain personnel. Let’s create an incentive for them to deploy specially trained people and lead the way with a model for legislation that can be enacted in other states.

Mark S. Knapp is an attorney licensed to practice in Washington state and leads Action Training Group Inc. Contact him with questions, suggestions or to get involved in any of the activities and efforts discussed above at

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